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  • Translator: Nadine Hennig Reviewer: Denise RQ

  • Show of hands -

  • how many of you in the audience today know what a double bass is?

  • Of those people, how many of you can actually describe one

  • without saying "that big thing"?

  • (Laughter)

  • Already a smaller percentage of the general population.

  • Let's make that level of refinement our goal for today.

  • To do so, we'll start with the violin.

  • Everybody knows what a violin is

  • even if you live in a little cave, you come out now and again,

  • and most likely, you've bumped into a violin some way or another.

  • You probably also know what a cello is.

  • Maybe you even know the instrument between a violin and a cello

  • called a viola.

  • If you don't, however, you really shouldn't beat yourself up.

  • Those able to differentiate a violin

  • from either viola or a stick mixer for that matter

  • is already a rather small percentage of the general population.

  • The double bass is the lowest of the orchestral string instruments:

  • that being violin, viola, cello, double bass respectively.

  • Outside of the orchestra, basses can also be found

  • in jazz bands, blues ensembles, combos, Klezmer bands

  • and various other musical constellations.

  • Within the orchestra,

  • the bass is played bowed,

  • either overhand or the French hold,

  • or underhand or the German hold,

  • or as the Germans themselves like to call it "the correct hold."

  • (Laughter)

  • Why those of us outside of France and Germany play the bow holds we do

  • has more often than not to do with what our teachers played

  • and what their teachers played and so on and so on.

  • By the way, in case you're wondering

  • why the instrument is called the double bass,

  • it is not because it is twice as big as a normal bass,

  • which, if you hang out with bass players,

  • you know there is no such thing as a normal bass,

  • but it is rather to signify

  • that it plays twice as low as the cello or that it doubles the cello line.

  • What does this instrument sound like?

  • At first glance, the sound we expect from a bass

  • is something along the lines of...

  • (Double bass music)

  • That's fine and interesting,

  • but then, maybe you've also known a bass in other contexts.

  • Maybe you've, I don't know, watched a few shark movies now and again,

  • and known ...

  • (Double bass notes from the "Jaws" theme song)

  • Trivia for today:

  • a former teacher of mine actually was the bass player for "Jaws."

  • He had come back from a recording session in New York and said,

  • "You wouldn't believe it. I got paid today to play two notes."

  • (Laughter)

  • Both of those contexts aren't really much more

  • than we would expect to hear from a tuba.

  • If there are any tubists in the audience,

  • please, I'm sorry, if you take exception to this,

  • but let's be honest;

  • when preparing this talk,

  • Microsoft Word didn't even recognize "tubist" as an actual word.

  • (Laughter)

  • But I'm thankful for the tuba because if it weren't for the tuba,

  • I actually wouldn't be standing here today.

  • The biggest distinction of my youth

  • was that of being one of the two fattest kids

  • in my elementary school and high school.

  • So the question is: what do you do with the fat kid

  • to keep him from watching "Knight Rider" reruns all day?

  • Well, you hand him a trombone,

  • and if he gets any fatter, which I unfortunately did,

  • then you hand him a tuba.

  • I played both, but unfortunately, practiced neither.

  • It wasn't until I discovered the double bass at the late age of 17

  • that actually interested me enough to practice it,

  • and eventually attend the conservatory in New York, and then eventually decide,

  • "Well, the classical music isn't narrow enough.

  • The bass isn't narrow enough.

  • I need to study the historic bass," which is what this instrument is,

  • and I came here in Basel in 2004 to do so.

  • If there are any expats in the audience, you know that after New York,

  • the move was a bit of a gastronomic masochism.

  • (Laughter)

  • The upside is that I now get to live

  • in one of the most culturally rich and beautiful European cities

  • which, let's face it, is really not such a bad fate

  • for a fat kid from the Catskills and Long Island.

  • (Laughter)

  • I do believe the sound on this instrument

  • is much more interesting than the sound of my own voice.

  • So I'd like to share with you one of my favorite pieces

  • which is from the classical period,

  • which is from the composer Johann Baptist Wanhal.

  • Both, the piece and this instrument,

  • were created just about the year 1770.

  • (Double bass music notes)

  • (Double bass music from the "Double Bass Concerto in D Major" starts)

  • (Double bass music ends)

  • (Applause)

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

Translator: Nadine Hennig Reviewer: Denise RQ

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